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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on March 07, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 99] March 7, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 99]
March 7, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal event:
Driving away evil sprits at the beginning of spring: "bean scattering"

:: 1. Seasonal event

Here is a Haikai, Japanese traditional poem, written by a Japanese
poet called SHIDA Baya in 17c.
"Mame torite Waremo kokorono Oni utan."
Interpretation: I shall grab the roasted soya beans to drive out "Oni"
who lives in my mind.
The four dates dividing the seasons on the Traditional East Asian
lunisolar calendars are called Risshun (立春the beginning of spring),
Rikka (立夏the beginning of summer), Risshu? (立秋the beginning of
autumn) and Ritto (立冬the beginning of winter). Risshun is regarded
as an important one because spring comes first in the New Year. And
also, on the third of February which is Risshun eve, the Setsubun event,
well known as "bean scattering", is held. During the event, roasted
soybeans are thrown out of the door or at an Oni (Japanese traditional
demon) who is usually a member of the family wearing a mask and pretending
to be an Oni. While scattering the beans, people say "Demons out! Luck in!
(Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) ". And after that, they eat the same number
of the beans as their age (or one extra in some parts of Japan). How
come people started to scatter the beans onto Oni during this season?

The bean scattering is thought to have begun in the Muromachi period
(14c) and then became common among ordinary people in the Edo period
(17c). The temple called Kurama-dera is said to be where the bean
scattering first happened. According to the myth, Oni who appeared in
the temple was driven out by scattering roasted beans. It was thrown
into its eyes as is suggested through divine revelation from one of
the guardian gods in Buddhism, Vaisravana.

There are quite a few reasons why beans are used in the event. Firstly,
beans in Japanese is pronounced as "Ma me". "Ma" itself can mean "devil,
demon, evil or Oni" and "Me" means "eye". Because the word "destroy
("Messuru" or "Metsu".)" contains "Me", people regarded "Beans (Mame)"
to have the power to destroy evil spirits. Also, "Roast" is pronounced
as "Iru" which also has a different meaning of, "shoot (or hit) the
target". On top of that, Oni and soya bean are categorized as the "Gold"
in the Theory of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. Bean is roasted from
the belief that "Gold" can be suppressed by "Fire" and then humans eat
them at the end to conquer Oni.

The origin of scattering beans could go further back to an event on New
Year's Eve called "Tsuina" in ancient China. People shot arrows made
from a peach tree to a man who was wearing a mask of Oni as his role
in the event. This was brought into Japan and actively took place in
the Edo period. "Tsuina" is also called "Oni yarai". In the Heian
palaces, some nobles in managerial positions ware appointed to march
around their imperial court and shout "Oni yarai" repeatedly and other
people waiting with them acted as their backing with bows and arrows,
and also played Pellet drums to exorcise evil spirits.

In plot 41, "Phantom" in "The Tale of Genji", there is a scene in which
the grand children and children of Hikaru GENJI (who is a main character
in the noble), do "Oni yarai" loudly on New yYears Eve. Hikaru GENJI
dies soon after, however, it is a metaphor to mean that new things
take over after old things went."

Many festivals related to dead people have been held historically all
over the world somehow particularly at this time of the year. On Ash
Wednesday which is before Easter, teenagers and children dressed up as
a dead person and walk around at night in Western countries. There is
a custom among the natives in the North America to call back ancestor's
sprits and dance together which is just like the Bon festival in Japan.
If "winter" suggests "death" metaphorically, people once invite it and
then, send it away to ensure the arrival of the "spring" which indicates
"new life".

The setsubun contains various meanings such as the arrival of spring,
chasing out Oni and alternation of generations. Although it is quite
an unusual custom scattering roasted bean to drive Oni away, it has
carried on for hundreds of years without dying out in Japan. Are there
any customs to get rid of evil spirits using food in your country?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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